Abel Prize, tragedy

John F. Nash, Jr. and Louis Nirenberg were honored for their math in Norway, but Nash died in a car accident upon his US return

Photo: Peter Badge / Typos1 / Wikimedia John F. Nash, Jr.

Photo: Peter Badge / Typos1 / Wikimedia
John F. Nash, Jr.

Staff Compilation
Norway Post / New York Times / NJ.com

The Norwegian Academy of Sciences and Letters this year awarded the Abel Prize for 2015 to the American mathematicians John F. Nash, Jr. and Louis Nirenberg.

This prize was especially meaningful to many in the mathematical community, because though Nash had previously shared the Nobel Prize in Economics for his work on game theory, this award recognized his later work, which was as revolutionary to mathematics as the other work has been to economics.

On May 19, Nash and Nirenberg received the Abel Prize from H.M. King Harald at the award ceremony in the University Aula in Oslo. Earlier the same day they were received in audience at the Royal Palace. The Abel Banquet in the evening, at Akershus Castle, was hosted by Torbjørn Røe Isaksen, Minister of Education and Research.

On May 23, tragically, Nash (86) and his wife, Alice (82), were killed in a taxi accident on the New Jersey Turnpike, while returning home from the airport. The couple were ejected from the vehicle and pronounced dead on the scene. The taxi driver and the driver of the other car were treated for non-life-threatening injuries.

Reached at his home Sunday, Nirenberg, who had known Nash since the 1950s, called him a “wonderful mathematician.” After flying back with the couple back from Norway, he said they got into a taxi at the airport for the ride back home together.

Nash, subject of the biopic A Beautiful Mind, starring Russel Crowe, was widely regarded as one of the top mathematicians of the 20th century. He was also well known for his struggle with paranoid schizophrenia. Together with his wife he advocated for mental health care after their son John was also diagnosed with schizophrenia.

The Abel Prize was established on January 1, 2002. The purpose is to award the Abel Prize for outstanding scientific work in the field of mathematics. The prize amount is 6 million NOK (about 750,000 Euro) and was awarded for the first time on June 3, 2003.

The exceptional Norwegian mathematician Niels Henrik Abel was born on August 5, 1802. When he died, only 26 years old, he left a large body of work, including the first proof of the general binomial theorem, which had been stated by Newton and Euler.

This article originally appeared in the May 29, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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